Developing a Character Archetype for Your Story
by Samantha Stone

Character archetypes refer to the recurring habits and nature of a specific character in a story. For example, if you were writing a story that featured a kind, generous, loving female character, then these traits are often exhibited by the character numerous times as the story unfolds and develops. Readers come to expect these particular traits from this particular character. This is what makes her an archetype. When you have a character who exhibits the same type of traits or behavior repeatedly, then you have successfully created an archetype.

Why Use Character Archetypes In Fiction Writing?

Everyone who writes fiction has had at least two things happen to them over the course of writing their stories—the initial excitement and enthusiasm of creating their masterpiece, and then the self-doubt and stagnation that inevitably sneaks into the writing process.

Many authors feel "stuck"—or slowed down—and fear that this is a precursor to writer's block. This is usually caused by creating "bland" characters who lack the ability to help you create ingenious plots and who fail to interest and intrigue readers. By creating archetypal characters, you can avoid this entirely. Since most writers identify with the characters they have created, they are, in fact, putting their own needs, wants, desires, and traits on the page.

TIP: a carefully-planned character archetype will help you to create a memorable main character and avoid the doldrums of writer's block.

Creating character archetypes also allows you to set yourself apart from what's happening in the story—if the main character is a mirror image of you who avoids conflict because you hate conflict, then you can create a character archetype who thrives on facing conflict. Since the conflict is happening to someone else, you can excitedly explore different conflicts and how your main character might handle them.

The Benefits of Using Character Archetypes

Once you understand how your story can benefit from using an archetype, you can then begin to create characters who will truly bring your story to life.

For example, what would you find more interesting:

1) an intense description of a character who will appear only once in the story, or 2) an intense, detailed description of a character who appears numerous times in the story?

Would you be more interested in knowing that:

1) the character with the cameo appearance had once robbed a liquor store, or 2) the main character was a priest who displayed all the normal traits of a priest, but had once robbed a liquor store?

Once you have established the traits and nature of the archetypal character, anything outside of the norm will definitely intrigue and interest your readers.

A Technique to Implement Character Archetypes

Let's say you want to write a murder mystery, but you're having trouble developing your characters. If you're agonizing over who the victim should be in your murder mystery, then brainstorm about people you've known throughout your lifetime. If someone in particular stands out, someone whom you dislike, then turn him or her into the archetypal character.
  • Did he always have greasy hair?
  • Did he always have a cigarette hanging out of his mouth?
  • Did she always dress poorly?
  • Did he always have bad manners?
  • Was he ever arrested before?
Details, traits, mannerisms, and motives...these elements can help you to create your character archetype "murder victim." As for the "real" person, he or she never has to know.

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